The 82 percent problem

It’s now November, and that means final exams are around the corner. For many, this means sleepless nights spent in the library and study guides copied over and over. For others, however, this could mean something else entirely, something less honest.

According to a 2009 study in Ethics & Behavior, 82 percent of college alumni admitted to cheating in some form as undergraduates. In a study conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe, Rutgers University professor and co-founder of Clemson University’s International Center for Academic Integrity, 14,000 undergraduate students were surveyed and it was found that two-thirds were cheating on tests, homework, or assignments.

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This cheating behavior has potentially far-reaching implications because not only were these students cheating in college, but it was found in a later study that those who cheated getting their undergrad were likely to conduct themselves in a dishonest way later in life. Southern Illinois University researchers found in 2007 that those who plagiarized in college “viewed themselves as more likely to break rules in the workplace, cheat on spouses and engage in illegal activities.” More specifically, Josephson Institute of Ethics discovered that those who cheated in high school were three times more likely to lie to a customer or inflate an insurance claim than those who did not cheat. They were also more likely to deceive a boss, lie to a significant other, and even cheat on their taxes.

The reasons for cheating are speculated widely and psychologically complicated, but it’s believed that the pressure of academic performance, the need to achieve college-worthy grades is a major factor in dishonest behavior in school. Those who work to earn an acceptable grade are more likely to cheat than those who simply work to understand and learn a subject. Research also shows that those who do cheat are likely to continue cheating because “dishonest behaviors such as cheating actually alter a person’s sense of right and wrong.”

An individual’s dishonest behavior also depends on the behavior of their peers. David Rettinger, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Mary Washington says that several studies show, not surprisingly, that seeing others cheat increases one’s tendency to cheat. In other words, “cheating is contagious.”

These findings beg the question: how likely are Hendrix students to engage in dishonest academic behavior? Do they fall within the 82 percent? We asked several Hendrix professors how often they come across dishonest behavior in the classroom, anything from plagiarizing to writing notes on one’s arm for a test. Most responded that they encounter behavior like this several times each academic year, if not more. Many times, instances of cheating are not reported to the Committee on Academic Integrity but are instead handled discreetly the moment they happen.

This insight from professors still leaves the question unanswered of how widespread dishonest academic behavior actually is at Hendrix. One thing is certain, however, it exists, and researchers agree that preventing this behavior starts at the level of the individual student. Creating an environment where dishonest behavior is frowned upon and reported can potentially lead to a student body that produces work of academic integrity and that falls well below the 82 percent.

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